Getting Honest About Academic Dishonesty

When you think of academic cheating, what comes to mind? You may be picturing the cartoonish image of someone obviously looking over the shoulder of their classmates during a test. 

Cheating can present itself in a variety of ways, ranging from a student copying a classmate’s homework, paying someone to write their essay, or having someone in an earlier class period give them answers. Oftentimes when we think of the people who cheat, we’re supposed to imagine them as lazy students unwilling to work hard for good grades. However, according to a study done by Kessler International, a private forensic analysis firm, more than 80% of college students claim they’ve cheated while in school. So, either 80% of college students are just lazy, or there’s an environmental factor at play.

It should be said that none of us at the Foghorn think the act of cheating is justified. However, we understand what can potentially drive a student to cheat. Many of us feel that cheating is often the result of external factors, such as the structure of our academic system, and pressure from ourselves and others.

While cheating is typically framed as an unethical action performed by dishonest individuals, we should also acknowledge it as a symptom of academic culture. According to a UCLA survey of more than 150,000 students nationwide, from 2005 to 2015, the proportion of freshmen saying they frequently felt overwhelmed increased by 10%. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that college has also gotten more expensive to attend, and the rate of students working jobs has increased over the last three decades.

To add to the stress, our education system doesn’t prioritize learning, it prioritizes results. 

This culture is displayed in how your final grade doesn’t always reflect your growth; it only shows your cumulative score. For example, if a student entered a microeconomics class knowing absolutely nothing about the subject and therefore failed their first midterm, but managed to improve enough to get a C- on their second midterm, and eventually got a B on their final, they probably wouldn’t be rewarded with a B in the class that reflects how much they’ve learned by the end of the semester — they would most likely be given a C because of bad grades they received back when they had no idea what they were doing. When a system is solely results-oriented, it can lead to people cheating in order to get the result they desire.

This might lead some students to cheat because they feel like even if they do the work, their grades won’t be optimal, and if they have bad grades, they won’t be able to attend a well-ranked graduate school or land their dream job. Again, the Foghorn doesn’t think that cheating is good or noble, but we do think it is partly a result of a toxic academic environment.

When it comes to cheating, we believe that it is important to look at the larger academic processes and structures in place to reflect on what is making students feel the need to cheat in the first place.


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